Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Older Internationally Adopted Children and Education

Damn my blogging every day promise! Adoption-related no less!

I actually have a few posts floating around in my head, but I'm too tired to make much sense. So continue reading at your own risk. ;o)

So, this evening, Mark and I actually scored a sitter (wonderful neighbor!) and we both made it to all 4 of the older kids' conferences. It was a whirlwind! But all in all very good. The kids are progressing very well and I'm proud of them.

The conferences got me thinking about education generally and, more specifically, education for "older" internationally adopted children. This topic probably deserves several posts and more thought than my befuddled mind can muster right now. But here's what I got.

Education decisions are very tough. Older children adopted from other countries come with a range of life experiences and educational backgrounds. There are the obvious challenges of English as a second (or possibly third or fourth) language, but that goes deeper than most people realize. Well, at least more than I realized. Until we started the adoption process, I did not know that language acquisition actually begins in the womb. So that even children adopted as infants from non-English speaking countries have ground to make up as their language develops. Obviously things can be trickier with older children...

Yep, I'm rambling. :o)

At the beginning of the summer, we met with Selam's principal to begin to determine a proper grade placement for her. At the time, we didn't know much about her education level, nor did we know her exact age (although we were guessing closer to 11 at that time). Anyways, we were hoping she would be in 5th grade, but we figured we would wait and see when she got home. Once she did get home, we arranged a meeting with the principal and the school counselor to discuss options. At that point, we now knew that Selam had been to school consistently in Ethiopia and then at the orphanage. She would have been in 7th grade in Ethiopia (and age-wise) in the U.S., but we knew that we couldn't throw her into the pits of junior high.

My gut told me she should be in 5th grade. That would give her 2 years in the 5/6 school and give her a little wiggle room to get settled in. I knew it wasn't ideal as far as age, but age just isn't the only determination. But I received resistance from the school. Basically, they did the math and realized that if we put her in 5th grade, she would be 20 years old when she graduated. They did not force us, but they really guided us toward 6th grade.

She's been trying so hard and has had such a good attitude. But 6th grade is hard! Even though she is speaking so well, she's reading at about a 1st grade level. How can you do 6th grade ... anything (?) when reading at a 1st grade level.

So we just got home from conferences. There was lots of gushing about how sweet she is, how hard she's working, how she's so amazing. (This is all true by the way, and fun to hear). We talked about things that we need the teachers to do that we can stay in the loop and provide support at home. Fortunately, her teacher was very receptive and we were able to brainstorm some ideas.

But I asked my big question. And I was not overly pleased with the answer.

I asked what the school expected from Selam in order to pass the 6th grade. What was the answer? They don't know. They have some discussing to do and will get back to us in January.

Do you know what I think that means? I think they must have had completely unrealistic expectations of her. They didn't listen to anything we said back in August. And now they are talking about what we might do if we do hold her back.

And I'm sad for her. She will totally understand what is being done. And even if it's for the best, she has a lot of pride and it will not be easy to accept.

And I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated at the school and their (apparently) ridiculous expectations. And I'm frustrated with myself. Because I should have stood up for my child. And even if we had still chosen to go with sixth grade, at least I would know that I put every effort into determining if that was the right fit.

What does education really come down to for any of our children - but especially our older internationally adopted children? We need to be our children's biggest advocates. Not sure where things will go from here, but we aren't throwing in the towel. ;o) It's only November.

And yes, I need to go to bed!


Denise said...

Education is such a hard thing and adding an older internationally adopted child definitely would make that way worse.

Don't beat yourself up over your choices. You're wingin' it with an older child and sometimes it's OK to just take the school's advice and learn together, right? Could they recommend partnering with a program like Sylvan that guarantees a grade jump with only a few months? Maybe they could tutor her to get her up to speed faster in the subjects/requirements that the school deems appropriate for 6th grade graduation?

No matter what, she'll be OK. It's us parents that feel horrible, huh? My Caleb had to be held a grade level back when we enrolled him in public school after trying (and crashing and burning) homeschooling. I feel bad for him, but he's really OK and even though he's a year older than most kids, he's a good fit in his grade and I wish that there was not this grade / age train that kids hop on at age 5. It should be more tailored to the kid. Hmpf. I guess I should go to bed now!

HMK said...

Ugg. Sorry! But you never know, see what happens over the course of the next few months. I'm anxious myself to speak w/ B's teacher at conferences. We had a similar dilemma; age wise, she could have been in 2nd grade, but she'd had NO formal education in Ethiopia and academically, Kindergarten would have been the easiest transition for her. BUT, I didn't want her to turn 20 her senior year of high school and together w/ the school decided on 1st grade. She's still older than most of the kids in her class, but she is really blossoming and I am thinking she'll be ready for 2nd grade next fall. I guess we'll see!